Foreign Language Careers for College Graduates With Language Skills
Majoring in a Foreign Language
Up until the mid-1960s, I thought that people only studied the European languages of Spanish, French, German, and occasionally Russian in addition to classical Latin and Greek. After all, most high schools in my home state of Wisconsin only offered Latin, Greek, and Spanish to students. After I went off to college in 1962, it seemed like most of the kids I knew were studying either French or German and sometimes Russian.
At that time I was under the impression that most persons took a foreign language for two basic purposes: one, to become a high school teacher of a Romance language like Spanish or French; and two, to use a foreign language like written French, German, and Russian to do scientific research. Little did I realize at that time that much more could be done with a foreign language major.
This all changed after I went into the Navy and started to study Chinese Mandarin. Upon attending the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, in 1967, I realized that many servicemen were studying a lot of exotic foreign languages like Vietnamese, Cambodian, Chinese Mandarin, Russian, Korean, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, and Turkish. Certainly, these foreign languages were being used for different purposes other than teaching and doing scientific research.
In this article, based on personal experiences, I suggest several foreign language careers for college graduates with language skills.
Careers in Education
There are still many career opportunities for college foreign language majors in the field of education. They include careers as:
1. Primary, Junior High, and Senior High Foreign Language Teachers
In all areas of the United States, especially on the east and west coasts, many foreign languages such as Chinese Mandarin, Japanese, Russian, Spanish, and French are offered to primary and secondary school students. Qualified teachers in these languages have an education degree with a major in their chosen foreign language. If preparing to become a Chinese Mandarin teacher, the education student will study the vernacular during the first two years with an emphasis on grammar, listening and speaking, and the reading and writing of basic Chinese characters. During the third and fourth years of college, students will take courses in classical Chinese, Chinese linguistics, and contemporary Chinese literature.
2. College Instructors
A student who obtains a Master's or Doctorate in a foreign language will be able to get a teaching position at a college or university, In the process of getting a Master's or Doctorate, the student must do some research in the areas of vernacular, literature, or linguistics. A thesis must be accepted, written, and defended before a student is awarded a Master's or Doctorate.
Foreign Language Careers for College Graduates
Careers with the United States Government
Unknown to a lot of people, there are a lot of jobs and careers available with the U.S. federal government. Many of these jobs are exciting and offer foreign travel opportunities. There also are jobs that require holding top-secret security clearances. Some of the best places to use your foreign language major with the government would be in careers with the following organizations:
1. The State Department
Every year the State Department hires many United States citizens as foreign service officers or diplomats to staff its positions in Washington D.C. and also at embassies around the world. To be eligible for employment, a person must pass a highly competitive foreign service exam. I took the exam years ago and thought it was very difficult. It tested your knowledge of American and world history, economics, politics, American literature, religion, and other topics. If accepted for employment, the new employee will attend a foreign service officer school and be trained as an officer specializing in political, economic, trade, cultural, consular, and other affairs handled at embassies and consulates around the world. The foreign service officer will also get training in a foreign language that he or she will use in the country where posted for duty.
2. The Central Intelligence Agency
In the wake of 911 and the upsurge in global terrorism, intelligence agencies such as the Central Intelligence Agency or C.I.A. headquartered in Langley, Virginia, have been hiring many individuals with foreign language skills. Just like the State Department, anyone hired by the C.I.A. must be a college graduate and a U.S. citizen. The C.I.A. applicant must also be vetted by security organs to assure he or she is trustworthy of holding a top-secret security clearance. In response to the war on terror and other hot spots in the world today, qualified applicants with proficiency in languages like Arabic, Pashto, Punjabi, Urdu, Dari Persian, Chinese Mandarin, and Korean are in high demand. As CIA agents, persons will work either at Langley headquarters or at numerous places worldwide where they will work getting intelligence from other foreign intelligence agents or assets.
3. The National Security Agency
The National Security Agency or N.S.A. is located at Fort Meade, Maryland, just south of Baltimore, Maryland. As a major player in the U.S. intelligence community, one of its jobs is to produce foreign signals intelligence information. To do this job, N.S.A. employs numerous linguists in almost every language around the world to transcribe and translate foreign languages. Similar to the C.I.A., an applicant must be a U.S. citizen and a college graduate. Prospective employees must also be vetted by security organs before they are given top-secret security clearances to work at the Agency.
4. The Federal Bureau of Investigation
The Federal Bureau of Investigation or F.B.I. is an internal intelligence agency that specializes in counter-intelligence and tracking federal crime. Historically, the F.B.I. has tracked the activities of foreign intelligence operants in the U.S. Since 911, it has been closely watching terror cells like Al-Qaeda in the United States. Besides having agents for its headquarters in Washington and field offices throughout the U.S., the F.B.I. employs language specialists in such languages as Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, Punjabi, Dari Persian, Russian, and Chinese Mandarin.
5. The Voice of America
The Voice of America or V.O.A. as a propaganda arm of the U.S. government produces radio broadcasts in such languages as Chinese Mandarin, Russian, Korean, Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, and Dari Persian which are beamed to residents of the countries where these languages are spoken, After living in Taiwan for six years during the 70s, I applied for employment as a V.O.A. broadcaster in 1980. As part of the application process, I took perhaps the most difficult language test in my life. With a time limit of two or three hours, I had to translate an international news article in English into Chinese Mandarin, and then read my translation as a news broadcaster.
6. The Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was established in 2002 as a direct response to September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. When DHS was formed it absorbed the old Customs Bureau and Immigration and Naturalization Service among other federal agencies. Foreign language work for college graduates is possible with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs, and Border Protection, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. All of these organizations are under DHS. Spanish proficiency is primarily needed by Customs and Immigration. Proficiency in other languages such as Arabic, Mandarin, and other Chinese languages, and Vietnamese is also needed by DHS which works closely with the FBI.
Department of Homeland Security
The CIA is Hiring
Careers with the United Nations
The United Nations headquartered in New York offers language positions as interpreters and translators in support of multi-lateral communications in the six official languages of the U.N.: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, Russian, and Spanish. To win a language position, an applicant must pass a competitive language exam. Besides doing translation and interpretation work at the U.N. headquarters in New York, language specialists could work in Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Beirut, Geneva, Nairobi, and Santiago.
Jobs as Translators
There are several jobs listed for freelance translators online to translate business, education. legal, technical, and other written language topics from various languages into English. One of the better websites to find jobs is at TranslatorsCafe where after joining, you can create a resume and bid on many posted translation jobs.
Jobs as Interpreters
An interpreter is a linguist who is responsible for simultaneously or with a short delay rendering the spoken language of one person into the different spoken language of another person. For example, this might entail interpreting Chinese Mandarin into English, and then English into Chinese if the interpreter is serving the interpretation needs for both languages. There is a demand for interpreters not only with the U.N., but also for courts, immigration services, and businesses. An interpreter just like a translator is fluent in two languages and also the cultures of the countries of the two languages he or she is interpreting to and from.
With the expansion of a global economy today and the war on terror, drugs, and organized crime, there are more opportunities for college graduates with foreign language majors than ever before. Majoring in a foreign language is certainly a good investment for a college student.
Foreign Language Careers
With a degree and major in a foreign language, which career would most appeal to you?
Foreign Language Careers for College Graduates
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Paul Richard Kuehn